The Immigration Advocates Network Fifth Annual E-Conference FundraiserThe Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is excited to announce its fifth annual e-conference fundraiser, “Cutting Edge Issues in Immigration Law,” from October 31 to November 4, 2016. Join us for a week-long series of interactive online trainings with national experts on representing children, administrative advocacy, entry & admission, U visas, and provisional waivers. We explore the issues through the lens of current events and the latest legal developments.

IAN offers free webinars throughout the year for pro bono lawyers and nonprofit staff.  However, once a year, IAN hosts an e-Conference Fundraiser, and offers these webinars for a small fee. The e-Conference raises money to support the free online training materials for advocates who represent noncitizens in claims for asylum, changes in immigration status, naturalization and more. Resources include training materials, practice advisories, sample applications and affidavits, government-issued policy memoranda, significant case law, related articles, checklists and links to additional resources.

Join the e-Conference to support IAN and learn about the latest issues and strategies in immigration law.

E-Conference Features 

  • Listen to nationally-recognized experts from the comfort of your own office;
  • Participate in “ask the expert” sessions during each interactive training;
  • Access presentations and handouts before the training session;
  • Take interactive quizzes and polls before and during conference sessions; and
  • Obtain exclusive access to recorded trainings after the conference.

Register

The cost of each two-hour training session is $25. Your support helps IAN offer free trainings and resources throughout the year. For more information and to register, visit https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/econference.


Conference Sessions 

Representing Children in Removal Proceedings
Monday, October 31
This training will discuss legal protections for children in removal proceedings and steps to take if the government breaks those rules. The panel will focus on practice strategies for advocates.

Elevating the Case: Strategies for Helping Clients with USCIS Issues
Tuesday, November 1
This training will cover common issues with DACA and other cases such as processing delays, rejections, requests for evidence, correcting typographical mistakes and agency error. The panel will discuss points of access within USCIS, and how to engage the Ombudsman’s office.

How Entry, Admission, and Parole Affect Your Client’s Case
Wednesday, November 2
This training will review legal concepts of entry, admission, and parole into the United States. The panel will also discuss the practical effects of what happened at the point of entry on a client’s case.

Enhance Your U Visa Practice
Thursday, November 3
This interactive training is a U visa case strategy session, to troubleshoot common U visa issues, including how to frame qualifying crimes, complex inadmissibility issues, and more. Participants are invited to submit U visa scenarios on the registration form so that the webinar can discuss the issues they face in practice.

The Expanded Provisional Waiver Program
Friday, November 4
The panel will explain eligibility for the expanded program, including tips on completing the new I-601A. It will also cover the extreme hardship standard based on draft or finalized agency guidance.

If you are unable to attend a session, but would like to donate to support the Immigration Advocates Network, click here.

 


The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is a collaborative effort of leading immigrants’ rights organizations designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants and strengthen the capacity of organizations serving them. IAN promotes more effective and efficient communication, collaboration, and services among immigration advocates and organizations by providing free, easily accessible and comprehensive online resources and tools.

LHI logo

Online forms are a key tool in the movement to close the justice gap. They can be used from anywhere and at any time and are now a well understood component of a robust and diverse legal services delivery system.  According to LSC’S Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice, “Technology can and must play a vital role in transforming service delivery so that all poor people in the United States with a civil legal need obtain some form of effective assistance.”

The open Request for Letters of Intent to Apply for 2016 LSC TIG Grant Funding includes document assembly as one of the areas of interest, as well as replication grants. In order to spark your ideas for document assembly projects, I’d like to share some ideas. These are ideal for programs that are new to document assembly and also for programs that had document assembly grants in the past and are now in a position to benefit from the ongoing advances being made.

We understand from our community that an area of particular interest is improving the relationship that user friendly web page design and ancillary tools (such as live chat and short videos) have on the ultimate use of your online form collection and the benefits to end users. We shared some of these ideas on our January LHI Community call. We also shared a current TIG-funded usability A/B testing project that’s being conducted in Minnesota. In case you missed the call, here is a link to the presentation.

Our LawHelp Interactive Resource Center (http://www.probono.net/LHI) includes sample documents from successful past projects that you can use to begin the process. There is a link for sample LOIs as well as sample narratives and budgets.  (Note: the LHI Resource Center requires a login. Please register or contact us if you need assistance accessing it.)

Below is a list of potential projects utilizing online forms. We encourage you to think holistically about your online forms project and reach out either Claudia Johnson (cjohnson@probono.net) or Mirenda Meghelli (mmeghelli@probono.net) to help you scope your project and identify projects that might lead to potential replication in your state.

  • Replicate LHI Connect for pro bono unbundled clinics and attorney use. This new LHI functionality will be available for replication by other groups this year. LHI Connect facilitates the sharing of documents through the back-end of LHI between a lawyer and client or pro bono coordinator. In September 2015, we showcased the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma project that partnered with Pro Bono Net to develop this new LHI capacity. 2015. To learn more about LHI Connect, go here.
  • Replicate Oklahoma’s new approach to pages for specific content.  As part of its expungement project, Oklahoma redesigned how it displays the information about expungement on its statewide website, OKLaw.org. Other states could take this project’s design, simplify areas of law where the process or requirements are complex, and apply it, providing users with initial information and forms in short paragraphs and a guided navigation to facilitate understanding of the issue.  More information about this project can be seen at the LHI Connect link above.
  • Produce a mini-guide for your high volume areas. “Mini-guides” (or “mini-portals”) are statewide website pages that have a dedicated URL and contain the essential resources and forms for a particular civil legal issue. This enables a person seeking information about that issue to find all the information in one place rather than in a list, or on multiple pages. They have been very successful in increasing the visibility of resources and in getting users to the online forms available for that subject area. For examples, visit http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/dissolution or http://www.lawhelpny.org/consumer.
  • Reinvest in your collection! Several states have seen form use go down. This may indicate that it is time to reinvest in your collection of online forms and come up with up a more strategic approach to using online forms. This might include updating your document assembly authoring software (HotDocs or A2J Author) to ensure a better user experience, or coming up with new approaches to content creation now that your project is mature. Part of this would include moving to authoring with HD 11 and A2J 5 for creating forms, sprucing up your forms based, updating them for changes in the law, and conducting  user testing to ensure the updates have maximum benefits for users.
  • Add Live Chat support for your form projects (either within LHI or through your statewide website). Live Chat is a powerful tool to help more people find and make use of what they are searching for online. It also supports multilingual users. Live Chat can be used in information and referral settings, and also in advice and counsel settings. Added to  online forms, this is a powerful combination.  Here is an example of a recently launched Live Chat collaboration focusing on foreclosure.
  • Evaluate your project in more depth. Replicate parts of the groundbreaking Michigan Legal Help project evaluation in order to see if cases filed with LHI forms take longer, get better outcomes, and help your program and their partners serve the public better. Answer the question: do forms empower end users? Find more information here.  The Michigan full report can be found here.
  • Add depth to your collection – beyond initial pleadings or answers – and also add LEP content. Add more public benefit tools, more self-help letters, civil rights and disability documents or complaints – think outside the box. There are many areas that online forms can enhance, outside of litigation. What are the unmet needs of your communities where an online form might offer a solution?
  • Replicate the New York Consumer/Bay Area Legal Aid Legal Consumer projects. There is now an increasing awareness of the needs of debtors. I’d encourage you to look at Human Rights Watch report on debt collection for more information. Here are two examples of consumer law projects that are modern and state of the art.  Other resources for consumer law projects can be found here.
  • Create an LHI-Powered Expungement project. Many states are using LHI forms to help youth and adults clear their records in order to have better access to jobs, housing, and equal opportunities under the law. Consider creating an expungement project for a particular demographic, language, or age group. There are many examples of projects doing this. Please reach out if you want more information.
  • Leverage library and community partners: Stand up virtual self-help centers and beyond! Illinois and Michigan have done an outstanding job creating self-help centers in remote locations and virtually with their statewide online forms as a key component. If your legal aid organization can’t have an office in a rural location consider a project where online forms are completed at public libraries or local community colleges and reviewed remotely by volunteers or attorneys. This increases the footprint of your legal aid work without an office.  An example of a virtual self-help center opening from Michigan can be found here.
  • Add videos to your forms collections to support users or advocates. Guides, tutorials, and visual tools go farther than written content. Help your users understand their case and process forms with great video stories.  See examples here.

In addition to these projects, there are many more ideas on how you can invest or reinvest in your online forms projects that can be found here.  If you are interested in online form integration with your case management system, e-filing, custom email projects, integration with other platforms (Neota Logic) or other platforms or mobile tools, please reach out to Claudia Johnson cjohnson@probono.net.

Put on your thinking caps and reach out if you need support!

Jillian Theil has been the Training and Field Support Coordinator for Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. 

Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP kicked off their 2015 LSNTAP Community Training series with the recurring favorite, “50 Tech Tips for Getting You Started on Summer Projects.” The training featured 50 tech tips for project management, collaboration, communication and more, including resources to help legal aid techies get started on that summer project they’ve been putting off. It also included “homegrown” tools and resources developed by and for the legal aid community, and sources of nationally-relevant content and videos that programs have made available for community use.

Tim Ng of the Legal Aid Association of California kicked things off by highlighting some great general tech tips for the legal aid community. Some of these included Ninite, a program to install and update all your programs at once and tinypng, a compression tool for .png files.

Jenny Singleton of Minnesota Legal Services State Support highlighted some great tech productivity tools including Workflowy, a workflow tech tool and Wunderlist, a great to-do list tool.

Jessie Posilkin of the Legal Services Corporation kicked off her presentation with a great reminder – sometimes, the most helpful tech tips don’t involve tech at all, but are rather about getting back to basics. Take a step back and go on a walk to reset your mind, make sure to pick up the phone to talk directly to your colleagues, and be sure to take time to orient your team to any new technology. These small tips will enhance your tech experience.

Not to forget some of the great homegrown tech tools the legal aid tech community has created, Anna Hineline of LawNY talked about WriteClearly and ReadClearly, two great plain language tools. She also discussed other useful products, such as IFTTT, which allows for automated actions between different tech tools.

Rounding out the tech tips was my presentation on tools that have made my life easier working in legal aid technology. A few of my favorites include device mode and mobile emulation in Chrome and the Google Analytics plugin for Chrome.

To view the other tips mentioned on this webinar, be sure to check out materials available on the SWEB Support Site and join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar, “Process Mapping for Civil Legal Services: Small Investments with a Big Impact!”

NTAP helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology. To do this, we provide technology training, maintain information, create online tools, and host community forums such as the LStech email list. Read about us, or contact us at info@lsntap.org for more information.

Bridge with tagline - volunteer faded

In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week 2015, which took place April 12-18, Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. Each day during the week we took to social media to highlight a resource from Pro Bono Net to help volunteer attorneys and legal professionals with their work. Below is a list of those highlights.

We also released a press release thanking volunteer attorneys and legal professionals which can be found HERE. Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality.

Sponsored by Points of Light—National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each subsequent year, with literally thousands of volunteer projects and special events scheduled throughout the week.

Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

Volunteer lawyers can connect to opportunities through the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, an online, easy-to-use, searchable directory of organizations providing pro bono opportunities across the country available through probono.net, the flagship site and namesake of Pro Bono Net. Legal professionals can search for opportunities through organization, topic and even location. The guide can be found here: http://www.probono.net/oppsguide/

The National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide is a joint project of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, its project the ABA Center for Pro Bono, Pro Bono Net and contributing organizations. 

Pro Bono Libraries

Often volunteer attorneys are addressing legal needs that are outside their usual areas of experience or expertise.  The Pro Bono Net network offers a variety of practice libraries where volunteers can find information and resources that include training materials, model briefs and pleadings, case law, videos and other helpful information. The information is sorted based on subject matter, and is state specific to help volunteers access the information they need.

The Library tool is available to members of probono.net in both the national site and state sponsored websites. To become a member go to http://www.probono.net

Pro Bono Training Calendars

Many sites in our network feature calendars with listings of CLE training and other community meetings, lectures, or legal clinics. This tool provides information about training opportunities to assist Pro Bono attorneys and volunteers find the trainings they need since lawyers are not always working within their usual area of legal expertise. These trainings are also geographically sorted to help volunteers find trainings in their area.

The Pro Bono Net National Calendar can be found at http://www.probono.net/calendar/ and categorized by states. The network sites also have their own calendars.

LawHelp Interactive Forms

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) powers online forms that allow low-income people without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. It can also be used by overstretched pro bono and legal aid attorneys seeking to work more efficiently. LHI supports volunteer attorneys in direct representation, limited scope and referral and screening contexts by helping them to do their pro bono work more efficiently and providing support in new areas of law.

Visit https://lawhelpinteractive.org/FindForms to find out if forms are available for nonprofit advocate and volunteer use in your state.

More Resources

Here is a listing of additional resources that Pro Bono Net helps to provide volunteer attorneys and legal professionals. For more information visit http://www.probono.net

Disaster Legal Aid http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/ – A national site designed to help advocates and volunteers navigate FEMA applications and appeals, and assist disaster survivors facing with other legal needs.

Pro Bono To Go in MN http://www.projusticemn.org/collections/   – A Minnesota statewide mobile tool which provides mobile guides and checklists to Pro Bono volunteers on their smart phones

The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory http://www.probono.net/dv/ – Online searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to Domestic Violence

The Immigration Advocates Network Volunteer Opportunities Guide http://www.immigrationadvocates.org/probono/volunteer – Online searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to Immigration issues

Military Pro Bono http://www.militaryprobono.org/probono/ – Online resources and searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to military and veteran issues

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

 

 

 

Non-lawyers writing words like Petition and easy in the same sentence? You got to be kidding me!

Everyday I come to my home office in Eastern Washington looking forward to opening our LawHelp Interactive inbox support box. Why? Because I want to read emails from end users and staff at libraries, self-help centers, and clinics that tell us what a difference being able to create legal documents online makes. I feel that from here I connect to the world via these emails.  And I do mean the world, since LawHelp Interactive creates forms for people in Germany, India, UK, and by people living or serving abroad. From being here over 6 years, I know the LHI statistics intimately – I am a self described data hawk. For example, I know that each day we support over 3,000 sessions, and that people are creating 1,300 documents per day using our system—including Saturday and Sunday. I am also acutely aware that the number of users keeps increasing thanks to the creativity of our legal aid partners and their outreach efforts – including greater use and adoption of LHI-powered forms in self-help centers, brick and mortar centers run by courts, legal aid, or libraries, and also in remote clinics. We also recently confirmed that 70% of our users want to create their forms and go—they don’t want to create accounts and come back to edit a long interview. We also know that shows that 15% of the documents are created by lawyers and court accounts working through pro bono events, run by legal aid staff attorneys, or pro bono lawyers. So, I got the numbers down—and I love the numbers.

But numbers are not enough. At the Goldman School at Berkeley, I learned that good policy looks at both qualitative and quantitative factors. In an effort to look at qualitative feedback from a different perspective, I went into our user inbox and pulled emails from 8/30/2014 to 9/15/2014 and stopped when I had 100 words. I used the feedback to create a word cloud. This is how it looks!

LHI Word Cloud
The LHI Word Cloud

It amazes me to see words like “helpful,” “Thank,” “Divorce,” “Support,” and all in relative similar sizes. The email forms asks “was this useful”—“Yes” is almost always in the emails we get—and also “Thank you so much.” Some people use the word awesome; “easy” is another word that comes up a lot. Seeing this word cloud, confirms to me that online, easy-to-use forms, and the platform that serves them play an indispensable role in the access to justice continuum. Without the forms or LHI to serve them, save them, store them, and allow people to edit them when they need to, many legal aid, court, and access to justice initiatives would not be able to provide such high quality assistance to so many who are in need.

Personally, to me this is reaffirmation that contributing to LawHelp Interactive, and being part of the Pro Bono Net team—is meaningful. My great grandma used to tell me in Spanish, “Tiempo perdido, hasta los angeles lloran,” which roughly means even angels weep for the time that they lose. Or in other words, wasting time is terrible. Time is the only resource in life we control absolutely – how we spend our time, what our mind and body do with the time we have, and how we share it with others. I spend everyday in the Pacific Northwest connected to NY, the South, and the Midwest and supporting LHI and the projects the amazing legal aid and Justice community run through LHI; it does not get any better than this. Seeing the word cloud—and seeing the words our end users use to tell us if the LawHelp Interactive forms were helpful makes my day many times over. I hope it makes your day too. If anyone wants to talk data, numbers, and LHI statistics for their projects and initiatives, and/or have me pull a word cloud from feedback on their online form projects, reach out to me. I would love to share our feedback with others.

There are over 4,000 online forms on LawHelp Interactive, the largest national online document assembly platform designed specifically to meet the needs of low-income communities and the legal aid providers that serve them.

Forms are available in various areas of law and for a range of audiences. By and large, family law is the area with the greatest number of interviews posted and documents assembled. For example, in looking at the most recent quarter of statistics, from June to September 2014, 135,459 interviews were done in the family law area (excluding guardianship/conservatorship), compared to 12,408 housing forms, another area of great need for help and forms.

However, when diving in and looking at the numbers more carefully, it is striking to see that there are not a lot of domestic violence pleadings posted in LHI. This comes as a surprise, since all states have a uniform domestic violence form instead of forms that vary county by county, and the many benefits to survivors of being able to ask for protection from outside a courthouse from safe locations..

Divorce forms account for approximately 40% of resources and assemblies in LHI. Divorce and separation and annulments, including debt relief make up about 54,000 of all the assemblies during this period (out of 135,549 totals). Compared to this, DV form assemblies (at 19,214) make up only 14% and  pale in comparison. However, when diving in and looking at each state, there are some states that are having enormous success in the utilization of their DV and protection online forms; in these states the courts have whole-heartedly embraced online forms as part of their self-help strategies online and in brick and mortar self-help centers.

In New York, the NY Courts through their DIY form initiatives are seeing good use of their online form interviews that help survivors obtain protection orders. In fact, in New York DV protection order document creation via LHI is almost at par with Divorce/Separation/Annulment. In New York, 4391 Orders of Protection were created from June to September 2014. This success is mostly due to the e-filing initiative that was piloted out of the Bronx County self-help center which has now expanded to all judicial districts in New York and is part of a collaboration between Safe Horizon, Pro Bono Net, and other partners to make the forms available to survivors at self-help center with the assistance of trained advocates.

In Minnesota, also the home of an innovate e-filing project, a 1,612 forms were created for DV survivors in the 3rd quarter of 2014. In August 2014, the Minnesota Courts restarted an e-filing pilot that allows survivors to file DV protection requests through the Minnesota MyCourts page. This pilot recently won a State Innovation Award from the Humphrey School of Public Policy. Over 680 harassment petitions and orders for protection have been filed at the Hennepin County self-help center through the pilot.

Another state that is seeing great utilization of online forms is California. In California, the courts are using online forms in self-help centers that provide services in person with the Riverside Self-Help Center providing assistance online. During this period, over 6,700 DV assemblies were created (34% of all family law documents created across the state). The bulk of these assemblies come from Riverside County. In January 2014 they started making the online forms available for filing through faxing using the LHI platform to let survivors access the forms online from safe shelters, police departments, and other locations. Part of this volume is also explained by the partnership between Neighborhood Legal Services in Los Angeles and the LA Superior Courts through the Domestic Violence Self-Help Assistance project (DASH)—which has been allowing survivors to create protection orders and file them in person at over 5 self-help centers for years.

The benefits of providing online DV forms are many. DV forms are a natural form to automate given that as mentioned before there are statewide DV forms available in each state. So instead of having to create county-by-county forms—a legal aid or court wanting to automate a form could create a statewide form with the same level of effort. Once a form is available online either through select self-help centers or survivors assistance projects, the form could be e-filed from any safe location, as NY courts and Minnesota Courts are doing. For survivors, who generally are working under difficult financial conditions, often are afraid of running into the abuser in person, and might be trying to protect their children, and keep their home safe while living in danger, avoiding the trip to the court is an amazing improvement. They can ask for their protection form from a shelter (as they do in Idaho, Los Angeles and surrounding counties and Riverside), they can do it a police station with the help of a trained officer or with the help of survivors services, or at a DOJ Justice Center (as they do in Los Angeles), or they can do it from a library, or a virtual self-help center, as they do it in Arkansas or Washington State.

October is DV awareness month. Legal nonprofits and those working on Access to Justice need to consider making easy-to-use online DV pleadings available to their communities. Working with courts to accept the pleadings produced, and promoting the forms so that shelter workers, and other survivor advocates can access the forms and help survivors complete them, can go a long way in protecting a life.  Survivors should not be required to take time off from work and spend an entire day to get the benefits of a protection order. Access to Justice should be reachable from anywhere at anytime, including after hours. Incorporating e-fillable self-help friendly forms into survivor advocacy projects and working in partnership with providers that already work with these groups, including civil legal aid non profits, will go a long way in removing some of the difficulties and barriers when they need to figure out how to protect themselves, their children, and their homes.

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP partnered to produce a pre-Celebrate Pro Bono Week webinar on innovations in technology-enabled pro bono. Moderated by Adam Friedl of Pro Bono Net, the webinar presented examples of new innovations in technology to support pro bono, as well as tips on how to make these technologies more effective and helpful for pro bono programs.

Paul Haidle, Director of the Volunteer Attorney Program at New Mexico Legal Aid, kicked off the presentations by discussing their virtual legal fair, in which attorneys gather at a central hub and connect with clients in rural areas using Skype. Additionally, Haidle explained steps to developing a successful rural clinic and technology considerations for a virtual clinic.

Next, Ric Morgan, a private attorney, and Beth Anderson of Johnson & Associates, covered a virtual pro se clinic concept – free monthly clinic(s) at public libraries across Colorado that link parties without an attorney to counsel over the Internet – and a sample plan for implementing such a concept.

Tony Lu, Product Manager at Immigration Advocates Network, then described work being done on Citizenshipworks 2.0. Citizenshipworks 2.0 is a project currently in development that utilizes expert systems, online forms, contextual information, and video/web chat to connect those seeking US Citizenship to the appropriate pro bono resources.

Afterwards, Brian Houghton, Litigations Projects Manager at Law Help Ontario demoed LHO’s ticket system to manage their remote assistance project, as well as considerations for undertaking such a project.

Lastly, Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net concluded the webinar with a discussion of online forms and e-filing projects in the legal aid community.

While this was the final LSNTAP/PBN webinar of 2014, be sure to check out LSNTAP.org for additional information about upcoming online trainings. Materials from this and other webinars in this series are available on the SWEB Support Site.

by Xander Karsten and Jillian Theil

As part of our work with Pro Bono Net, we frequently attend conferences, which offer us the opportunity to connect with colleagues as well as learn and share trending topics, information and new tools.  This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference

From L-R: Michael Smolens, Matthew Burnett, Xander Karsten, and Teri Ross at NTC 2013

(NTC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota was no different. But what sets NTC apart is that it draws non-profit professionals from a number of fields – not just the legal sector. Meeting and learning from medical service providers, parent advocate associations, and more, provides us with invaluable insights as to how other nonprofits approach common problems, such as how to increase access to much needed services.

One of the trending topics at NTC was the digital divide, and how we close the inequality gap that exists between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Today, nonprofits are relying more and more on technology to efficiently and effectively achieve their goals and deliver services.

The digital divide was the main focus of a presentation by Elizabeth Pope, senior researcher at Idealware in her session called, From Digital Divide to Digital Inclusion: Technology as an Equalizing Force. In this session, strategies for closing the divide were discussed, such as identifying barriers to technology access (mobility barriers, language barriers, economic barriers, etc). Two organizations that have made progress on increasing technology access – the Pacer Center and the Skokie Public Library– were discussed as exemplary organizations working on how to create effective resources for clients who have a limited understanding of technology. At Pro Bono Net, this is a particularly important issue for us as we develop technology tools to increase access to justice, such as our LawHelp  and LawHelp Interactive platforms. Additionally, it is helpful in thinking through our partnerships with public libraries, important partners in closing justice and technology gaps.

Consequently, access to content via mobile was also a focus of discussions around the digital divide. With a growing number of low income and young users accessing websites and direct services organizations on mobile devices, this is yet another key topic for nonprofits. At Pro Bono Net, developing mobile optimized versions of our LawHelp site is a key priority in enabling access to legal services to a broader demographic, and CitizenshipWorks.org offers a mobile app that helps immigrants understand the naturalization process. SMS and Derek Olson, Vice President of Foraker Labs and Michele Zwiebel, Director of Programs and Content at Breastcancer.org provided exceptional insights into the process of translating a full site into a mobile accessible site in their presentation Designing a Mobile User Experience for Breast Cancer Survivors. Even though the mobile site is health oriented, there were many takeaways for non-health organizations, such as how to mobile optimize a content-heavy site and the importance of observing your audience’s needs when designing for mobile. The panel also reflected the growing sentiment that designing for mobile users should be a primary consideration in all platform development, allowing for maximum accessibility across all devices.

Echoing the mantra of accessibility, mobile platforms and multilingual content were also examined in a panel moderated by Pro Bono Net’s Xander Karsten, Breaking through Language Barriers with Technology with panelists Teri Ross, Program Director of Ayuda Legal Illinois; Michael Smolens, Founder of DotSub and Board Member of Translators without Borders; and Matthew Burnett, Director of Immigration Advocates Network. This breakout session highlighted the work and strategies of each organization in making their online presence meaningful to those with limited English proficiency, such as addressing how to translate a site that offers a large amount of content, how to approach translation projects in communities where multiple languages are spoken, translation of multimedia resources and much more. Interestingly, the session was particularly unique in that it was the only conference panel to directly focus on language access rights, something that we work towards at Pro Bono Net by offering the ability to translate our LawHelp sites into multiple languages.

In much of our day–to-day work we are often confronted with figuring out how to  provide meaningful access to those who face incredible barriers when trying to access resources and information. Within our own communities we talk about language access, mobile access, literacy access, economic access, physical access and more. Utilizing the principle of accessibility when designing sites and services can change the life of a disadvantaged individual facing legal challenges.  NTC is a great opportunity to look at these issues from outside the legal services perspective, see these common access issues in a different light, and bring back new and innovative solutions to the legal technology community.

 

“Librarians [are] very natural navigators.  That’s what they do, they help people figure out what resources they need to use, what medium they may need in order to move forward.” -Stacie Colston Patterson, Illinois Legal Aid Online.

November 2 marked the last of Pro Bono Net’s Libraries & Access to Justice Webinar Series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources.”  This webinar focused on five collaboration models throughout the country, including the technologies they use, the partners they engage, and what they’ve learned along the way.

Collaborations and Programming

Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator at Illinois Legal Aid Online, presented four partnership programs forged between the legal community and public libraries in Illinois.  This includes legal self help centers, which can be found in 99 of the 102 counties in Illinois, 80 of which are housed in public libraries. Another program, “Law at the Library” brings attorneys and judges through the Chicago Bar into Chicago Public Libraries for seminars on specific legal topics, which are then streamed and archived by Illinois Legal Aid Online. The final two programs focus on training librarians and cyber navigators (part time employees housed at libraries throughout Chicago to help patrons use library computers) on the online legal resources available to patrons, providing training opportunities for library staff, and additional collaboration opportunities.

Janine Liebert, Librarian for Programs and Partnerships at the LA Law Library spoke about four models used to collaborate with legal aid agencies.  These include topical legal information sessions in public libraries, answer clinics with self help centers in the libraries, traditional legal clinics, and access to justice via technology.  The subjects they cover vary widely and are responsive to the needs of their patrons, and have recently included debt collection, consumer law and veterans’ benefits.  These collaborative models provide access to legal information and referrals for patrons, serve as a focal point for joint outreach for legal aid agencies and libraries, serve as a means for early intervention for some patrons (allowing them to access mediation or deferred action programs), advocate the public library’s role in access to justice, and support the courts by providing self-represented litigants with information.

These services also include internal trainings, such as a recent CitizenshipWorks training the LA Law Library hosted for more than 50 public and law librarians.   Tony Lu, CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator, discussed this initiative and how librarians can use CitizenshipWorks.org to help residents become citizens.  CitizenshipWorks is an initiative that assists those seeking citizenship in understanding and navigating the naturalization process.  The Los Angeles Public Library system, in partnership with local naturalization service providers, is creating “Citizenship Corners” in each library branch; incorporating computer terminals featuring CitizenshipWorks into these Citizenship Corners will allow library patrons to use interactive tools to learn about the naturalization process, learn about their eligibility, and find legal help  In addition, libraries in Los Angeles are beginning to partner with citizenship service providers to conduct group processing workshops using CitizenshipWorks in their computer labs, where groups of people can be served by volunteers to complete their naturalization applications.

Continue Reading Legal Aid/Library Collaborations – Lessons Learned

A new webinar series developed by Pro Bono Net and its partners, “Librarians and Access to Justice,” has attracted hundreds of attendees eager to learn how librarians can use online resources to better educate and assist their patrons with legal needs. The most recent webinar, which took place Oct. 11, is summarized below. The last webinar in the series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources,” takes place Nov. 1. Click to register or to see archived versions of the first three webinars.  

“Libraries serve the entire community…  [through libraries] underserved groups have equal access.” – Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager

On October 11, Pro Bono Net’s popular “Libraries and Access to Justice” webinar series continued with its third webinar, “Helping Patrons Find Legal Assistance in their Community: Online Referral Tools.”  This webinar served to highlight several resources available to librarians and patrons, including an overview of legal hotlines, ImmigrationLawHelp.org, and StatesideLegal.org, a website designed to provide information and referrals to service members and their families.  Presenting at the webinar were: Libby Vazquez, Director of the Legal Hotline at the City Bar Justice Center; Ken Ramsey, Program Coordinator at the Immigration Advocates Network; Peter MacArthur, AmeriCorps VISTA at Pine Tree Legal Assistance; and Kathleen Caldwell, Statewide Website Coordinator at Pine Tree Legal Assistance.  Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, moderated the panel, and gave background information on the subject.

Libby Vazquez provided insight on legal hotlines, which allow callers to speak to an attorney or advocate and receive specific legal information on their problem.  Hotlines do not typically provide full representation to callers. As Ms. Vazquez explained, there are several different types of legal hotlines.  Some provide just legal information and referral services to callers, without providing any type of representation, some provide legal information and do intake for ongoing representation within their agency, and others are hybrids of the two.  Legal hotlines may also address certain populations (such as the elderly) or certain topics (such as family law or health law).  To ensure the quality of hotline services, the ABA adopted standards for hotline programs.

Ms. Vazquez also provided numerous other resources the City Bar Justice Center uses in their hotline system, such as LawHelp.org/NY, which provides legal information and referrals (a list of all state legal information websites can be found at LawHelp.org), the state’s uniform court website, DIY forms, and e-court case look ups.  These resources not only provide legal information, but also provide listings of legal aid providers in a geographic region, and in a given subject area.   You can find a listing of legal hotlines in your area at LegalHotlines.org.   Ms. Vazquez also discussed the ABA’s Lawyer Referral Directory, which has contact information for lawyer referral services in all 50 states.

The webinar next highlighted a nationwide resource, ImmigrationLawHelp.org.  As Ken Ramsey explained, ImmigrationLawHelp.org provides information on 960 legal service providers who specialize in immigration law.  This database was created with low-income users in mind, and can assist both librarians and patrons to find advocates and attorneys in this specific field. Each listing provides the agency’s contact information, service area, types of immigration assistance provided, populations served and languages spoken.  The site also supplies information regarding other legal and non-legal services the agency may provide.

Users can search by state, county or detention facility, and can filter the results, download, print or email the results, and map the directions to the agency’s office.  The site is available in multiple languages. The directory information is updated consistently, and the site itself allows users to report any out-of-date information.    To view a demo, check out the webcast of the webinar.   ImmigrationLawHelp.org is a project of the Immigration Advocates Network.

Another nationwide resource explored during the presentation was Stateside Legal.  As Peter MacArthur explained, “Stateside Legal was created three years as a clearing house of easy-to-read information for service members and their families when they have non-criminal legal issues.”  The site was developed by Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership.  Stateside Legal provides self-help materials for service members and their families, as well as a referral tool.  Users can browse topics and find a library of legal content geared to the unique needs of service members.  There is also an option to view form letters that individuals can use when facing deployment or coming home, helping them deal with car or cell phone contracts, lease agreements and other contractual issues.

Stateside Legal provides referral resources under their “Find Legal Help” section.  This information includes military legal assistance, to locate legal services that can assist with deployment-related issues; general civil legal aid help, assisting low-income service members with general legal issues; civil or criminal legal services for justice-involved veterans who may be facing criminal charges; and legal service providers who can help with service-related benefits (such as VA related claims and disability benefits).  One new feature of the site was highlighted by Kathleen Caldwell, who explained that users will be able to search different legal help organizations in the database and see all the organizations in a map with their contact information.

If you’re interested in listening to this or any of the past webinars, or registering for one of the future presentations, visit the Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series Homepage for information, recordings, and registration information.  All recordings are free and open to the public.  The webinars are being produce with funding from a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative (TIG) grant, in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN).